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Arctic and Arid-Land Plants Have New Homes / September 9, 1999 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Arctic and Arid-Land Plants Have New Homes

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
September 9, 1999

Two new sites for conserving and managing plants important to U.S. agriculture are open in Palmer, Alaska, and Parlier, Calif. The new sites join 26 others in the National Plant Germplasm System of the Agricultural Research Service.

The National Arctic Germplasm Site will house native Arctic plants useful in environmental restoration, some with potential medicinal value, and some grains, legumes, and vegetables adapted to high latitudes. Examples are northern-adapted grasses like tussock grass and northern berries like bear berries and nagoon berries. Curator David Ianson will also conserve plants with importance to native cultures such as Boreal yarrow, which Northern Indians use for tea, poultices and sleep aids. The genebank is housed at the State of Alaska Plant Materials Center in Palmer.

In Parlier, the Arid-Land Plant Germplasm Regeneration and Genetic Resource Unit under curator Maria Jenderek has two roles in the NPGS. The site serves as an alternate location for other genebanks to grow out crops that benefit from a long frost-free season. Also, the Parlier site will house plants that grow in dry regions. Among them are jojoba, used in shampoos; guayule, a desert shrub being developed for its hypoallergenic latex; and lesquerella and meadowfoam, potential new oil crops.

ARS' National Plant Germplasm System is a storehouse of more than 434,000 specimens of seeds and other genetic materials of crops and their wild relatives. Researchers use these germplasm materials to identify useful traits, like disease resistance, for breeding into commercial varieties.

For long-term germplasm storage, it's crucial to periodically grow the plants to regenerate the seed or other reproductive tissue. Naturally, the plants grow best and produce the most seed in their native areas. The Palmer location offers a growing site for northern grasses and crops that grow in high elevations or above 60 degrees north latitude. In Parlier, plants enjoy hot, dry summers and about 14 inches of rain per year.

ARS is the lead scientific agency for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contacts: David M. Ianson, ARS National Arctic Germplasm Site, Palmer, Alaska, phone (907) 745-4469; fax (907) 746-1568, david_ianson@dnr.state.ak.us. Maria M. Jenderek, ARS Arid-Land Plant Germplasm Regeneration and Genetic Resource Unit, Parlier, Calif., phone (559) 646-0307, fax (559) 646-0431, jenderekm@aol.com.

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